By Anja Jeffrey, Director, Centre for the North
"Disasters can and do happen. Small, rural, remote and coastal communities have been affected by hurricanes, wildfires, water contamination and an assortment of other hazards. Resource-based jobs have often disappeared and families have moved to larger urban centers. Some communities have slowly disappeared while others have flourished. What makes the difference? Why are some communities more resilient to disasters and change"?
This winter (18-22 February, 2013), the Centre for the North will be seeking answers to these questions.
At the invitation of the Chief and Council, and with the support of the Government of the Northwest Territories (NWT), the Centre for the North will be spending a week in Wha Ti, a Tlicho community of about 600 people located 160 km northwest of Yellowknife in the NWT. Led by an expert in emergency management and in collaboration with Elders, youth, the Wha Ti Band Council and other key players, the project will assess the level of resilience of Wha Ti and help the community to build a resilience plan. To accomplish this, the project will be employing and adapting one of the most promising tools in this area: The Rural Disaster Resilience Planning Framework (http://wp-rdrp-dev.jibc.ca/) developed by the Office of Applied Research of the Justice Institute of British Columbia in collaboration with Royal Roads University.
Laying the Groundwork
The Centre for the North's May 2012 report Getting it Right: Assessing and Building Resilience in Canada's North concluded that for Northerners, the concept of security is grounded in their communities, and the extent to which these communities are healthy, self-reliant, and able to cope with a range of shocks. Our research also confirmed that to strengthen their resilience, Northern communities need additional tools, and that the emerging concept of resilience assessment offers the most promise.
In collaboration with the Government of the Northwest Territories' Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) we found that a resilience assessment process would complement MACA's current initiatives to support the community in developing up-to-date emergency management plans; the assessment of disaster resilience is a natural progression from emergency planning and preparedness at the community level. This realization ultimately led Wha Ti First Nation to agree to participate in the project. The lead up to the project involved:
- A successful emergency management workshop conducted by MACA on June 4, 2012 with 27 community emergency officials and Council members in attendance for the entire day;
- The preparation of an up-to-date Community Emergency Plan that subsequent to the MACA workshop;
- The approval of Wha Ti Chief and Council to participate in the disaster resilience assessment initiative through a Band Council Resolution at a December 3, 2012 meeting; and
- An acknowledgment by the community that it sees this work as the logical next step to the emergency planning workshop, and as the completion of its Community Emergency Plan.
Building from the bottom up
The process is based on engagement. The project will apply the Rural Disaster Resilience Planning Framework through a series of workshops with local leaders, youth, elders, band members working in and outside the community, and band members not involved in the wage economy.
|Characteristics of Resilient Communities|
There are five main characteristics that contribute to a community's ability to manage and recover from a range of threats and shocks. These include:
Our 2012 report, Getting it Right: Assessing and Building Resilience in Canada's North, highlighted that northern community resilience is best established from the bottom-up. This is achieved through the independent interaction and initiatives of local individuals, businesses and public sector organizations, such as the local Wha Ti government. Traditional top down or centralized frameworks have proven to be inadequate for effectively building local resilience. In part, this is because top down approaches do little to increase community capacity and often fail to address locally defined priorities, cultural values and resource constraints.
Resilience is also a function of good risk assessment and management. Without a comprehensive understanding of the risks and hazards it faces, a community will remain vulnerable. Similarly, without proper awareness of the resources, capacity, and assets available for addressing a community's risk environment, it will be difficult to produce effective action plans, risk treatment options, and resilience-building strategies. The resources and assets of a community are things like: infrastructure; equipment; local skills and knowledge; social cohesion; health and educational services; governance and leadership. Risks and hazards can include natural disasters, industrial and chemical accidents, disease outbreaks and water contamination.
Delivering a Plan
The project will assist the community government and residents of Wha Ti in becoming more aware of the risks they face and the resources and assets they have at their disposal. The findings from the assessment will form the basis of a facilitated discussion on actions and strategies to increase disaster resilience. The discussion will focus on addressing the highest priorities for community resilience as identified by workshop participants, and their suggestions for strategies to improve resilience.
Fundamentally, the project will result in a Community Resilience Plan which identifies the greatest hazards facing Wha Ti, and the resources and capacities it has to address these hazards. The Community Resilience Plan will also establish roles and responsibilities for addressing disaster resilience within Wha Ti, and will include specific plans and strategies for enhancing the resilience of Wha Ti in the short and long term.
Follow us on Twitter (@CFN_Team) February 18-22, 2013 as we participate in this exciting and important work with the Wha Ti First Nation in the Northwest Territories.